SINGAPORE - Meritocracy has helped Malay Singaporeans achieve progress, but the country cannot rest on its laurels, said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli on Monday (May 14).
Speaking during the debate on the President's Address, Mr Masagos outlined how the Malay/Muslim community must tackle three external challenges: the erosion of cultural values by foreign influence, economic disruption and foreign extremism.
Said Mr Masagos in Malay: "Failing to do so will hinder our community's progress in the future."
To meet these challenges, Mr Masagos pledged to build up the collective strength of three institutions, which he dubbed the 3M - the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), Mendaki, and the Malay Activity Executive Committees Council (Mesra).
He cited how he will work with the Malay political office holders - Senior Minister of State Maliki Osman, Minister of State Zaqy Mohamad, Senior Parliamentary Secretary Faishal Ibrahim and Amrin Amin - as a team in the 3M. Mr Masagos also announced that Mr Zaqy has been appointed as deputy chairman of Mendaki.
In his speech, Mr Masagos, who took over from Dr Yaacob Ibrahim as Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs in last month's Cabinet reshuffle, warned that foreign religious educators have already changed how some Malays lead their religious lives here.
"It has also, to some extent, succeeded in eroding our cultural values as Malay/Muslims in the region, and also our Malay heritage that we should uphold and continue to preserve," he said. "It can also divide our community, even among our family members."
Muis, which oversees the socio-religious life of Muslims here, must improve the Asatizah Recognition Scheme to continue to ensure that local religious teachers are on par with foreign educators who are seen to be more glamorous, he said. This is to ensure that religious messages are not only attractive but also "effective and relevant to life in Singapore".
Mr Masagos also noted that shifts in the global economy and the emergence of disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics has challenged Singapore's strong position in the region. "Our population is also ageing. Jobs are becoming obsolete and yesterday's skills are no longer needed for the jobs of tomorrow," he added.
To deal with this, Mendaki is working with government agencies and other Malay/Muslim organisations to address issues that hinder the education of children, especially those from troubled families at risk of crime and drug abuse.
Mendaki is "thinking of how our community can quickly embrace the culture of lifelong learning and be ready to upskill for the new economy", he said.
Today, only 1 per cent of Malay/Muslim children do not complete 10 years of education, and 94 per cent of them now have a post-secondary education, he added.
Mr Masagos devoted a sizeable portion of his Malay speech to talking about religious extremism, which he said is not only about terrorism.
"Extremist attitudes encourage one to be exclusive, which can cause the Muslim community to isolate itself from other communities," he said, adding that it has already happened to some extent.
To boost interaction between communities, he highlighted the role of Mesra, which is under the People's Association. Mesra, he added, needs to go beyond promoting language and culture, to build "wider and deeper relationships within the Malay community".
Mr Masagos wants to strengthen Mesra's leadership too, announcing a new Mesra Advisory Council comprising of seven advisers, Mesra's exco members and several professionals.
The 3M must work together to help the community achieve progress, he said. But they must also overcome issues in last-mile service delivery, with each institution focusing on their respective networks.
The community must also be willing to give back to society once they become successful, he said. From 1980 to 2015, he cited how the monthly household income of Malays has increased sixfold in the span of 35 years.
He said: "It would be unfortunate if we build a community that is merely rich in material wealth."